on July 27, 2020
eBook Sefarditas

Interview: Lira Neto should release, later this year, biography of Sephardic Jews

on July 27, 2020

Some of the best and most awarded biographies of Brazilian personalities are in the curriculum of Ceará author João Lira Cavalcante Neto, also a journalist and doctoral student in history at the University of Porto. The life stories of José de Alencar, Padre Cícero and Getúlio Vargas earned him some of the main national literature awards, such as Jabuti. Currently, Lira Neto is developing another exciting biography. This time, it is not the biography of a character, but of a people, the Sephardic Jews, expelled from the Iberian peninsula between the 15th and 18th centuries. The author took a break from his study and writing routine to talk about the new work that could be launched later this year by Companhia das Letras.

Lira, after all, who are the Sephardic Jews who inspired you to write a book?

Lira Neto: What was there was a remote possibility of making a biography of Maurício de Nassau, that back in 2002, 2003, but circumstances led me to other projects and I ended up leaving Nassau aside. I realized that I had more than one biography of Nassau. I had a story there, a biography not of a person, but I had a collective biography. I begin the book with a discussion of when the first Jews would have arrived in the Iberian peninsula. These Jews, who arrived in the Iberian peninsula in very remote times, come to be known as Sephardic precisely because of the peninsula's ancient name, the Sefarad lands.

I kept collecting this material until I realized that as if the drift of the Jewish people with all their diasporas was not enough, it had a specific diaspora, which was exactly those Sephardic victims of the Inquisition. First, in Spain, which led many of them to take refuge in Portugal. When there is a Portuguese expulsion edict, they take several paths and destinations. So, the culture of Sephardic Judaism spreads throughout the world at the time. Major Sephardic attraction centers are beginning to form, such as Venice and North Africa. And what started to interest me was a specific group that goes to Amsterdam, because it connects exactly with Maurício de Nassau.

It is a tangle of information. Is that what made you interested in this story?

Lira: When I realized that there was a skein of events, facts, episodes, characters there, I said: “well, let's try to put the ends of this skein together to produce a cohesive narrative”. And we know that a narrative that deals with documentation for so long, there are a lot of gaps and mysteries, sometimes some resolvable, others not. So that's when I said: “well, Maurício de Nassau, don't worry! When I have the opportunity, I will look into this matter ”.

After fleeing the Iberian peninsula, Sephardic people spread throughout the world and there is a vast bibliography on the subject. How will your book address this plurality of information?

Lira Neto: There are academic works, including very consistent ones, but a good narrative that unites all these points is missing. It was as if each of these books were chapters of a possible major work. In addition, I saw the need to focus on characters that would transform this story not into a storytelling thing, but that it would be possible to identify life stories in the documentation.

You commented in interviews that this research of yours helps to understand the historical roots of intolerance and also prejudice. What makes you believe that?

Lira Neto: This documentation makes it very clear that this is, perhaps, the guiding thread of all these individual dramas that result in this book. In other words, they were people essentially marked by intolerance. They lived to escape from extreme situations, they lived to try to escape to preserve their own life, because there was a suspicion, a persecution exactly because they are different. They are always victims of an exclusion produced by difference. And the non-acceptance of this difference is manifested in this documentation in an extremely violent way. This violence is sometimes symbolic, sometimes physical, and other times it is manifested through blood.

So, that's why I dedicate the book to all the disinherited, to all exiles, to all refugees, because this is a very current story. This history, this search for a promised land is as old as humanity and at the same time it is as current. It is amazing how in the 21st century we are still discussing this type of theme, we still need to dedicate a book to people who are touched, expelled from their territory.

And when will the book be released? Will it also be released in Portugal?

Lira Neto: I want it to be published here too, because most of the characters are Portuguese. Undoubtedly, it is a book that needs to be read by Brazilians, by the Portuguese and also by the Dutch and North Americans. On the launch, I committed to deliver the originals of this book to Companhia das Letras in early September. If I succeed, and everything indicates that I will succeed, the book will still come out this year, at the end of 2020.

Posted in Portal Terra.